Thursday, March 11, 2010
C.A. Limits Los Angeles Ordinance on Book Dealers
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A Los Angeles book collector who promotes his hobby in publications, online and at various events—but does not sell books—does not have to obtain a police permit for his activities, this district’s Court of Appeal has ruled, reversing a trial court.
Div. Two ruled Tuesday in an unpublished opinion that a city ordinance requiring a permit for persons in “the business of buying, selling, exchanging or otherwise dealing in secondhand books” did not apply to those who merely collect books for personal enjoyment.
Richard Hopp brought an action for declaratory judgment after the Los Angeles Police Department informed him he needed a permit to set up an “exhibitor’s table” or “buying booth” at city events to inform people of his interest in purchasing “books, documents, and ephemera.”
According to Hopp’s website, www.buyingitall.com, he “actively promotes his collecting and hobby…through advertising in many publications, on websites, and various similar public notices,” and at “flea markets, swap meets, trade shows, garage sales, and collector meetings.”
Hopp claimed he purchases items for personal use, not for resale, although he “may recycle and/or donate” unwanted items.
The LAPD, however, told him a permit was required under Los Angeles Municipal Code Sec. 103.310. The section requires a written permit from the city’s Board of Police Commissioners for “secondhand book dealers.”
Hopp resisted, seeking judicial intervention to avoid facing criminal prosecution. He maintained that he was a book collector, not a book seller, and that state law preempted the ordinance.
The city moved for judgment on the pleadings, and Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey granted the request, ruling that a hobbyist is a “secondhand book dealer” subject to the ordinance.
On appeal, Presiding Justice Roger W. Boren said he accepted Hopp’s representations about not selling books as true, and the justice rejected the city’s contention that a collector who acquires used books for personal enjoyment is as much a “secondhand book dealer” as someone who purchases used books for resale.
“The ordinance is directed at persons who engage in a commercial activity—both buying and selling—with a view to profit,” Boren wrote. “Someone who simply collects books for personal enjoyment is not a ‘secondhand book dealer.’…
“Our conclusion is a matter of logic and common sense. Many people purchase secondhand books for their personal use and enjoyment—at bookstores specializing in used books, at public library book fairs, at yard sales, at swap meets, or on the internet. New lawyers may want to purchase a set of annotated California codes from a retiring lawyer.
“Under the City’s interpretation of its ordinance, all of these secondhand books purchasers must obtain a police permit from the City, even if they have no intention of reselling the books. The ordinance cannot bear the weight of such an absurd result.”
Boren declined to opine whether state law preempted the ordinance, but rebuffed the city’s arguments that it was merely trying to curtail crime and prevent used book purchasers from becoming “fences.” He said the city’s concern was misplaced so long as Hopp did not actually sell any books.
The justice also rejected the city’s claim that it did not seek to impose the permit requirement on people who “want to buy one book, or even 1,000 books” so long as they did so quietly and privately.
“No valid distinction can be drawn between book collectors who go about their hobby in a quiet manner and those who do so with overt enthusiasm,” he wrote.
Justices Kathryn Doi Todd and Judith M. Ashmann-Gerst joined Boren in his opinion.
The case is Hopp v. City of Los Angeles, B215265.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company